June 17, 2024

The Supreme Court decision that upheld the government’s stand that all lands in Baguio shall remain part of its townsite reservation has stalled the processing of pending ancestral land claims in the regional office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
This may have even jeopardized the status of lands already issued with certificates of ancestral land titles, according to some members of the city council. 
Invited to the city council on Nov. 14 to clarify the status of ancestral lands in relation to the SC decision and the amended charter of Baguio, NCIP-Cordillera Legal Officer Arthur Herman said the decision did not stop them from processing valid ancestral land claims but it has substantially clipped their authority.
The amended charter, on the other hand, also recognizes ancestral land claims although the NCIP has been recei-ving complaints about the seeming exclusion of the Camp John Hay reservation from being delineated as ancestral land. 
The SC decision, which has been made final on Feb. 24, 2020, recognizes “prior” land rights or those issued CALTs or certificates of ancestral land claims (CALCs) through admi-nistrative, judicial, or other processes prior to the approval of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). 
At the same time, the decision has sustained the government’s argument that Baguio shall continue to be go- verned by its charter and all lands proclaimed as part of its townsite reservation shall remain as such unless reclassified by legislation. 
The case, which involved the CALTs issued to the heirs of Cosen Piraso, heirs of Josephine Abanag, Marion T. Pool, Joan L. Gorio and Virginia C. Gao-an over parcels of land at Wright Park, Pacdal circle, Barangay Lualhati, and Casa Vallejo, nullified the NCIP resolutions that paved the way for the issuance of titles over these properties, resulting in the cancellation of the CALTs and its derivative titles. 
Herman said the decision provided exemptions in the issuance of titles such as by judicial or administrative processes, and through the local government’s future acquisition of real estate but the phrase “other processes” has left many interpretations with how the NCIP would go about in the processing of other ancestral land claims. 
Herman said this is why the NCIP regional and city offices are formulating guidelines defining parameters of “other processes”.
He said a point of contention are whether to include CALCs by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1990 and 1993, or before the creation of the NCIP when the IPRA was passed in 1997. 
“Do we include them as part of the ‘other processes’? We are still trying to elaborate on it,” Herman said. 
For Councilors Jose Molintas and Peter Fianza, the SC decision has prejudiced indigenous peoples especially those with legitimate claims.
Molintas said the SC decision sets aside the Doctrine of Native Title otherwise known as the Cariño Doctrine, which recognizes prior rights of indigenous peoples on areas held since “time immemorial”. 
He added the decision has watered down the relevance of the office tasked to promote the welfare and rights of IPs. 
For his part, Fianza said CALTs previously issued may be cancelled using as basis the SC decision and there may no longer be lands to be awarded by recognition of ancestral land rights based on the high court’s affirmation that all of Baguio is a townsite reservation. 
Herman has concurred with the points raised by the two Ibaloy councilors saying this could affect the 48 Igorot claims recognized by government with prior rights. 
The 48 Igorot claims are families of first Ibaloy inhabitants in Baguio, which was recognized by government via administrative order issued in 1960 by then President Elpidio Quirino. 
Herman said the NCIP does not have a record of who among the families have perfected their claims and the specific area they are claiming as ancestral land. 
Since the creation of the NCIP, 192 CALTs and one CADT have been issued. There are 147 CALCs in their office but have not been processed for various reasons such as the recent SC decision; opposition from the DENR; and dispute among claimants which include IPs and non-IPs. 
Herman however assured that with the guidelines, other ancestral land claimants will still be able to acquire the estate of their forefathers. 
The NCIP-Cordillera and NCIP-Baguio target to fi-nish formulating the guidelines first quarter of 2023 to submitted to the NCIP en banc for approval prior to the resumption of the delineation process of CALTs and CADTs. 
Meanwhile, the city council has asked the NCIP to submit its comment on the SC decision and the amended Baguio charter to be used as reference in the ongoing formulation of the implementing rules and regulations of the charter. – Rimaliza A. Opina